August 3, 2004

Ex-drug czar emphasizes prevention, treatment

McCaffrey calls on communities for support

By David Kassabian,The Daily Texan, Austin TX

Former U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey was the keynote speaker at the annual conference for the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse at the Austin Renaissance Hotel on Monday.
Effective youth drug-prevention programs and cost-effective treatment services need to be the focus of the ongoing war on drugs, a former U.S. drug czar said Monday.

Barry McCaffrey said community anti-drug programs are especially important and called for more emphasis on prevention and treatment, instead of enforcement, in front of roughly 1,000 substance-abuse service professionals at the annual Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse's drug policy conference.

The commission provides funding for prevention, intervention and treatment services through contracts with about 200 community organizations that serve more than 750,000 Texans each year, according to the organization's Web site.

Communities must support prevention and drug-treatment programs, because chronic substance abusers are a burden to taxpayers, McCaffrey said. The total cost to taxpayers of a lifetime drug abuser is about $2 million, he added.

The vast majority of crime in the country relates to people dealing with some form of substance abuse, McCaffrey said.

"When you look at the men and women behind bars, particularly in the state prison system ... I suggest 80 percent of inmates are dominated by a substance-abusing lifestyle," he said. "That's not what is on the charge sheet - it was burglary, it was assault, it was fraud, it was male street prostitution - but the explanation is a life dominated by alcohol and chronic substance abuse, leading to unemployment."

McCaffrey, who was U.S. National Drug Policy Director from 1996 to 2001, stressed that the centerpieces of the Texas Commission's efforts against substance abuse should be education initiatives targeted at sixth- through eighth-graders and probation programs for repeat drug violators who commit non-violent offenses.

Efforts by federal and state agencies to fight drug use are not as effective as local programs, because drugs are more of a local problem, McCaffrey said.

"We have to make drugs socially unacceptable in the community," he said. "I don't think America has a drug problem; Texas doesn't have a drug problem; communities have drug problems."  

College communities are also affected, McCaffrey said, because of poor anti-drug efforts by school administrators who are very reluctant to admit a problem exists.

"I think university leadership needs to be challenged by parents and political leadership - we put these kids under your control, and part of taking care of them is creating an environment where you will enforce laws on campus," McCaffrey said. "Alcohol and marijuana abuse on campus is why [students] get pregnant, they fall out of windows and injure themselves, they drop out of school, they don't live up to their potential; and college administrators have to face up to it and have a healthy sense of responsibility."

Key to facilitating substance-abuse treatment are recent advancements in pharmaceuticals, and health-care providers extending coverage to substance abusers, said Barry Karlin, CEO of CRC Health Corporation.

"In our view, the key is to get society to recognize that this is a disease," Karlin said. "There's a fundamental failure by society to see this as a disease; if it's not a disease, then people do not want to pay for it. One of the challenges all of us face is how to persuade society that substance abuse is a disease and the treatment works."

Because CRC, like half of the treatment providers in the country, is a private corporation, patients who don't have insurance must pay the full cost themselves or seek free treatment, which usually is less intensive.

"If you don't have the money to go to a private treatment center, it can be very difficult to access treatment; people may need a great deal of support than what can be offered," said Diana DiNitto, professor of social work at UT. "Inpatient treatment is not widely available to people who can't afford it. Some of these facilities need help in reaching a broader population, and they need resources, because the treatment dollars are stretched too thin."